Great paper titles

This is a repost of something I wrote two years ago . . I was going to steal some new ones from paper-title connoisseur Sebastian Ahnert but changed my mind.

As for other types of human-made stuff, the name of a paper could be as important as the content. For movies, I once had the theory that X! Y was the formula for great titles (such as Ah! House collapse, Charge! Lolita poaching, or Godspeed you! Black emperor). Science is, of course, more constrained; still, this hasn’t stopped scientists from being poetic when giving their darlings names. Here are 10 paper titles that stuck to my mind and why.

1. Walking straight into circles This title is dreamy and poetic; still, it tells you precisely what the paper is about—testing the age-old idea that most people tend to get back to a place where they have been before. The article is just about as cool too. The authors really flew test subjects into the Sahara desert, equipped them with GPS, and let them try to walk straight.

2. On unavoidable hypergraphs Think about it, when did you run into a hypergraph last time? Aren’t they as easy to avoid as discrete math journals? If you think of the systems they represent (like social groups), they are truly unavoidable, but the math object itself? This paper is, of course, about a particular type of hypergraph. I never really read it, even though Fan Chung is a quality (and readability) sign. Last, I have a soft spot for “On . . ” papers, even though I don’t have one in my own CV.

3. The peculiar longevity of things not so bad A catchphrase (I think) because of this paper. An excellent formula for titles is to throw in a non-scientific word like “peculiar.” More such examples follow. The flip side of this title is that it doesn’t summarize the paper well.

4. Every planar map is four colorable As a counter-weight to the previous, this is an excellent title because it tells you the whole story of what the book (not paper in this case) is about, no more, no less. Above all, it tells you the authors came to a conclusion. It’s sometimes said that great science opens more new questions than it answers old—this may be true for the scientific community, but not for humanity as a whole.

5. Crazy explanations for the productivity slowdown Continuing the theme that colloquialisms make enjoyable, or at least not dull, scientific paper titles. “Crazy” makes the author seem really passionate, maybe even enraged. Somehow he managed to keep his composure well enough to get his paper accepted. Or so I thought . . actually, the crazy explanations are the author’s own, and he is alluding to quantum pioneers Pauli and Heisenberg . . even better.

6. Why rodent pseudogenes refuse to retire, I heard about it via a tweet from Sebastian Ahnert. It conjures similar images as The brain that wouldn’t die + it conveys the questions of the paper.

7. VOC concentration profiles in an ozone non-attainment area: A case study in an urban and industrial complex metroplex in southern Taiwan It’s the evocative “urban and industrial complex metroplex” I like. Echoing Dwight D Eisenhower, Einstürzende Neubauten, and JG Ballard. It also has a nice rhythm.

8. The ten thousand Kims Of my colleagues, my old lab leader Petter Minnhagen is the champion of paper titles. This is my favorite, about Korean family names.

9. A slum sex code Sex sells, of course, but this is a really apt and concise description of the paper, still with some evocative qualities (what kind of code? what kind of slum?).

10. Titanospirillum velox: A huge, speedy, sulfur-storing spirillum from Ebro Delta microbial mats Once again, a title worthy of an accompanying B-grade horror flick. Not that I would like to visit the microbial mats of the Ebro Delta anyway, but if I did, I pray I won’t meet a Titanospirillum velox.

As a final note, I realize my own paper titles are very far from this list. I vow to change that.

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